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Kristi Heim: The World in China

Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim explores a changing China on the world stage.

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July 31, 2008 3:00 PM

Too much control could backfire

Posted by Kristi Heim


China's Internet meddling and shutting out visits by business travelers around the Olympics are worrying longtime China watchers.

China's censorship of media and reported plan to monitor hotel guests' Web surfing ultimately won't work, said former Gov. Gary Locke, who plans to travel to China next week to run a leg of the torch relay.

"In many ways the Chinese government can't stop it," Locke said. "As much as they try with the Internet, the censors are always five steps behind people."

The reality is there are thousands of protests and demonstrations in China every day over matters such as land confiscation and closure of plants.

"For Chinese government leaders to think they can stop all this is not practical," Locke said.

"This is an opportunity for the Chinese government to showcase the progress and modernization of China and how far it has come in the last 10-15 years," he said. "The more they try to clamp down and control things, the more that becomes the story rather than how the standard of living for the vast majority of Chinese has improved."

Troubles with the Olympic torch run also prompted a crackdown on visitor visas.

That policy is a big problem for business, says Jim McGregor, an author and businessman who lives in China's capital.

"It's sending the wrong signals to the world that China is closing its doors," he said.

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July 30, 2008 10:15 PM

An Olympic question

Posted by Kristi Heim

How should people come to terms with the question of whether to celebrate the Olympics? Ketty Loeb, a University of Washington and Blakemore Foundation alumna now working on microcredit programs, said many people have begun to ask her that question lately. Loeb traveled across China last year and walked all day along a Beijing river with me last summer as part of a grassroots environmental gathering. That event showed the degree to which ordinary citizens are actively pressing for change.


KRISTI HEIM

Loeb (center, with backpack) and Chinese environmental volunteers along Beijing's Qing River in June 2007

She decided it's a matter of recognizing the issues raised by critics, while respecting the aspirations of Chinese citizens -- their anticipation, hope and pride.

"Taxi drivers, peasants, restaurateurs, and children all across China are waiting with intense excitement for the Games to begin," she said. "This is their chance to show the world that China is not some belligerent behemoth or a backward, uncivilized country, but a strong and capable people."

With so much attention focused on the country, it's a time for China and the rest of the world to understand each other better.

The Olympics are never free from politics, but in the center are the athletes, who can pull off such great feats of speed, strength and grace they break down boundaries.

Besides watching the games, people should take the opportunity to learn more about China and the challenges that it faces in the future, she said. Challenges like "balancing the desire for political stability and legitimacy with growing demands for civil liberties and human rights, continuing rapid economic development while paying more heed to environmental health, and providing for millions of impoverished Chinese citizens who are being left behind during China's selective economic boom."

In just a few decades, China has transformed itself from a socially and economically devastated state into a world power with a booming economy, she notes. It hasn't done everything right, but the progress has been astonishing.

When the Games start in Beijing, the events will be well choreographed, but the way Chinese authorities (and the public) respond to unpredictable situations will be the most revealing. Thirty years ago Deng Xiaoping ended decades of isolation, and now the Olympics will test how far China's door is open.

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July 30, 2008 3:44 PM

Locke to carry torch through China

Posted by Kristi Heim

Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke will carry the Olympic torch through Chengdu next week, showing support for the earthquake victims in Washington state's sister province of Sichuan.

Chengdu is the last leg of the journey before the torch reaches Beijing days before the opening ceremony.

Locke, who makes his torch run on Tuesday, said he's honored to have been asked and hopes "to emphasize the concern and sympathy and desires of American people to help out" following the May 12 disaster.

The earthquake, centered about 50 miles northwest of Chengdu, killed nearly 70,000 people and left five million homeless. The number of homeless equals more than 80 percent of Washington state's population, Locke said.

Locke, who is a partner in the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, said he's also traveling to Beijing to represent several companies, including a Seattle environmental technology firm that he hopes could help China address problems like the algae buildup along the coast in Qingdao.


DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE

Gary Locke meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2006

The first Chinese American governor was invited to attend the opening ceremony in Beijing. Locke said he had to decline because of a long-planned family vacation.

While he's in Sichuan he hopes to visit the areas impacted by the earthquake.

Locke said he's bringing along bracelets made by a young girl from Seattle who wanted to offer gifts to children there. The girl wrote messages on the package: "I love you," and "You rock."

"In many ways the victims exemplify the Olympic spirit of overcoming adversity with such courage," Locke said.

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July 29, 2008 3:16 PM

The Colors of Beijing

Posted by Kristi Heim


On Thursday I'll be leaving for Beijing to cover the Olympics. For someone who has observed China closely for the last two decades, it's an unprecedented historical moment. But it's also one fraught with contradictions.

The colors, for instance.


ASSOCIATED PRESS

These were supposed to be the green Games, but that doesn't exactly describe the environment in Beijing. It might refer to the color of the algae-clogged water at the Olympic sailing venue in Qingdao or the inexperience of organizers who have clamped down on the city with such vice-like control that they risk a joy-free Olympics.

I'm sure to find a sea of red Chinese flags, but there's no more Red China in the People's Republic of Capitalism. These days, red means nationalism, not communism. And the traditional color of festivity. Besides the opening ceremony on 8/8/08, numerous weddings will compete for space in Beijing's banquet halls. The date is especially coveted because the number 8 in Chinese is pronounced "ba," which rhymes with "fa," meaning prosperity.

Above all, the Games are about bringing home the gold. China's sense of historical insecurity is fueling a drive to catch up and surpass the West, using the bodies of athletes to rack up the most medals of any country.

But the hotel and tourist operators are feeling more than a little blue. Craigs List Beijing is littered with pages of would-be renters who hoped to cash in on a wave of visitors looking for rooms. Many hotels expecting to sell out are only half full.

Beijing sports legions of ubiquitous black Audis whisking around government officials and corporate VIPs. Even with half of the city's 3 million cars now off the road, the skies still look hazy. That means the athletes have to hope that black is not color of their lungs in September.


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Recent entries

Jul 31, 08 - 03:00 PM
Too much control could backfire

Jul 30, 08 - 10:15 PM
An Olympic question

Jul 30, 08 - 03:44 PM
Locke to carry torch through China

Jul 29, 08 - 03:16 PM
The Colors of Beijing

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